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Democrats Demand IG Investigation Into Justice Hiring Practices

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Washington, May 8, 2018 | comments

Government Executive

A group of congressional Democrats on Tuesday asked a Justice Department watchdog to investigate allegations that the department improperly considered job candidates’ political views during the hiring process.

In a letter to Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, eight Democratic lawmakers highlighted whistleblower accounts that prospective agency employees had job offers delayed or rescinded with “explanations that suggest a pretext for improper political motives.” The move follows a similar letter sent to Attorney General Jeff Sessions last month, which lawmakers said went unanswered.

 “Over the past several weeks, more whistleblowers have come forward with information that corroborates the allegations detailed in that letter [to Sessions],” the lawmakers wrote. “[Based] on these whistleblower accounts, the department may be improperly withholding or rescinding offers for these positions based on the perception that candidates hold political or ideological views that do not align with those of the Trump administration.”

The Democrats specifically noted complaints regarding hiring at the Executive Office for Immigration Review, an agency that oversees immigration judges, and the Board of Immigration Appeals, and suggested that testimony last month from EOIR Director James McHenry denying knowledge of the consideration of ideology in the hiring process was erroneous.

“The information provided by the whistleblowers indicates that this testimony may be inaccurate: in at least some cases, inferences about an applicant’s ideological or political affiliation could be gleaned from application materials, even if such information was not required,” Democrats wrote. “The department also may be attempting to improperly screen for political or ideological preferences by changing the qualification criteria for immigration judge positions.”

The letter was signed by House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Ranking Member Elijah Cummings, D-Md.; House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y.; Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.; Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.; and Reps. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, and Don Beyer, D-Va.

The Justice Department declined to comment on the letter.

The Justice Department, both by law and agency policy, is barred from considering a job candidate’s political views during the hiring process. But at times, the department has struggled with these rules, particularly in the Civil Rights Division and EOIR.

In 2008, a Justice Department Inspector General investigationfound that then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez’s aides “considered political or ideological affiliations” during immigration judge hiring. And in 2009, the OIG concluded that former acting Civil Rights Division head Bradley Schlozman similarly incorporated ideology into his hiring decisions. Last year, more than 20 progressive and public interest advocacy groups wrote to Sessionsurging him not to allow candidates’ politics to influence hiring decisions in the Civil Rights Division.

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